When Play in the Workplace is Serious Business

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Are there moments of fun and play in your work day?

Earlier this month, I contributed to a TODAY Show segment that explored how some companies are making periods of play and fun part of their culture.

When executed with intention, play can be important. It’s not goofing off — it’s serious business meant to encourage innovation, team collaboration and employee engagement.

For example, a bank in Nashville gave employees an optional break from their normal routine for one afternoon. They hosted a corn hole tournament that gave people time to re-energize, forge new connections and build camaraderie outside the context of their regular day-to-day routine. Twenty teams of four from across the organization competed and the afternoon was wildly successful.

Even if moments of fun aren’t officially incorporated into a workplace culture, each person can identify the type of “play” that re-energizes and helps them be their best, on and off the job.

For example, I talked to a trauma nurse who intentionally tries to interject what she called “moments of joy” into an otherwise high-pressured workplace.  Whether it’s a quick joke or a funny/happy story she’s heard, she finds a moment to share it.  Realizing how these “moments of joy” helped to manage the high stress of their day-to-day work, some of her co-workers have now joined in.

At the end of the TODAY Show segment, Matt Lauer says, “I would think that this type of play would make me less focused. I would be thinking about who pegged me at dodgeball all afternoon.” His reaction is a reminder to organizations: one size doesn’t fit all.  There are different definitions of fun and play.  Some people will prefer organized, competitive options, but others might like an impromptu “dishes from around the world” tasting lunch where everyone brings a favorite food from another country to try.

Successful implementation requires a culture and guiding framework that supports (but doesn’t mandate) the creativity to identify what moments of fun and play can benefit both the business and its people.

I’d love to hear from you. What kind of play has encouraged innovation in your workplace? How do you make time for these moments at work? Share your ideas in the comments section or on our Facebook page.

Fix Top Open-Office Productivity Drains

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I think it’s important to note when you see a trend.

At this moment, every corporate client we’re working with has at least one group transitioning from high-walled private cubicles and closed-door offices to open, collaborative work configurations.

While the business case for this open office shift is well-defined—increased employee density equals lower overhead costs—the more subtle impacts on productivity are less clear.

What I don’t see are honest discussions about open offices and productivity. These conversations aren’t happening for two reasons. Either people assume they’re the only one struggling to focus, or they aren’t aware of small, simple changes that can make a big difference.

Here are five common open-office productivity drains and quick, flexible work tweaks you can make the fix the problem.

1. Problem: Distractions from conversations at neighboring desks.
Flexible Fix: Wear a set of noise-canceling headphones that cover both ears.

2. Problem: Interruptions when you’re in the middle of a call or thought.
Flexible Fix: Establish a clear “rule of engagement.” For example: “When I have my headphones on or when you see a Do Not Disturb note on my computer, please come back later.”

3. Problem: Noise from groups meeting in close proximity.
Flexible Fix: Even when no one says anything, assume noisy group meetings bother others. Find breakout spaces to hold spontaneous group meetings or reserve a meeting room in advance.

4. Problem: Lack of focus for work that requires deep, unbroken concentration.
Flexible Fix: Work from a remote office (home, library, coffee shop where you don’t know anyone) as needed.

5. Problem: Inability to have private phone conversations.
Flexible Fix: Plan calls in advance as much as possible, and reserve a breakout room or use an empty office. If you have a number of calls, work from a more private remote location as needed.

How do you stay productive in an open office space? I’d love to hear your tips in either the comments section or on our Facebook page.

Midyear Check In: Simple Calendar Strategy for Work+Life Fit in 2015

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(This article originally appeared in Time.com in January, 2015.  But as we approach the middle of the year, I thought it would be a good opportunity to review and regroup)

A combined priority list helps reestablish solid boundaries around what you need and want to get done

For many of us, another new year means another new calendar; however, if you’re like a majority of all U.S. full-time workers, you’ll start several new calendars or have no calendar at all. This could be one reason why your work-life balance New Year’s resolution usually fails.

As part of our most recent survey of full-time U.S. workers conducted by global research firm ORC International, we found that more than half (53%) of all respondents said they either keep separate calendars/priority lists for work and personal events/tasks (36%) or don’t use any calendar or priority list at all (17%). Forty-seven percent of respondents said they keep one, combined calendar/priority list that tracks all their work and personal events/tasks in a single view.

That simple single calendar approach may be one of the keys to work and life success. For more than a decade we’ve studied the secrets of a group we call the work+life fit “naturals,” those unique individuals who seem to intuitively understand how to fit work and life together in a way that allows them to be their best on and off the job. Almost all of them keep one combined calendar/priority list that clearly shows what they are trying to accomplish, daily and weekly, both at work and in their personal life.

By displaying both their work and personal to-dos together, the naturals shift from “reactive overwhelm” to “deliberate intention.” As the line between our jobs and our personal lives continues to blur, a combined calendar and priority list helps the naturals reestablish solid boundaries around what they need and want to get done. It also forces them to prioritize and to think about the best way to accomplish the activity or task entered.

For example, when a natural receives a request from a colleague to start a meeting at 1 p.m., but had planned to take a 30-minute lunch walk at the same time, the combined calendar forces a pause and a moment of conscious choice. The natural can either accept the meeting and walk earlier or choose not to walk at all. Or he or she can ask if the meeting could start 30 minutes later.

Setting up a combined calendar/priority list is simple. Platforms like Gmail, iCalendar, and Outlook allow you to view your work and personal calendars together, and adjust privacy settings to limit which entries can be seen by whom.

Some naturals note entries as specific as “call mother to check in,” “order groceries,” or “review 401K,” while others simply block out periods of time knowing clearly what they want to accomplish without writing it down. The point is the boundary has been established with deliberate intention, which increases the likelihood that what matters will actually happen.

When it comes to calendars and priority lists, and finally breaking the cycle of “balance” resolution failure, apply that old saying “less is more.” Just one calendar may be the key to increased professional success and personal well-being in 2015.

What about you?  Do you keep one combined calendar/priority list, two separate (one for work and one for the other parts of your life), or none at all?

I invite you to continue the conversation on Twitter @caliyost or on Facebook.   

 

New Year…New Logo: 3-D, Always-Changing, Multifaceted Work and Life Reality

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To kick off 2015, I thought we needed a new logo that more accurately depicts the modern, everyday reality of work and life.

The “balance” scales don’t work.  The one-dimensional pie chart is inadequate.

The new image needed to show the flexible, 3-D, always-changing, multifaceted fit between our work, personal lives and careers.

So, I asked our graphic designer extraordinaire, Jen Francis, to give it a shot:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think?

Now, if we could just get it to move, like a kaleidoscope!  Then it would be perfect.  Maybe next year ;)

 

The Simple Calendar Strategy to Achieve Work-Life Balance in 2015 (That Most of Us Don’t Do!)

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(Article originally appeared in TIME.com)

For many of us, another new year means another new calendar; however, if you’re like a majority of all U.S. full-time workers, you’ll start several new calendars or have no calendar at all. This could be one reason why your work-life balance New Year’s resolution usually fails.

As part of our most recent survey of full-time U.S. workers conducted by global research firm ORC International, we found that more than half (53%) of all respondents said they either keep separate calendars/priority lists for work and personal events/tasks (36%) or don’t use any calendar or priority list at all (17%). Forty-seven percent of respondents said they keep one, combined calendar/priority list that tracks all their work and personal events/tasks in a single view.

That simple single calendar approach may be one of the keys to work and life success. For more than a decade we’ve studied the secrets of a group we call the work+life fit “naturals,” those unique individuals who seem to intuitively understand how to fit work and life together in a way that allows them to be their best on and off the job. Almost all of them keep one combined calendar/priority list that clearly shows what they are trying to accomplish, daily and weekly, both at work and in their personal life.

By displaying both their work and personal to-dos together, the naturals shift from “reactive overwhelm” to “deliberate intention.” As the line between our jobs and our personal lives continues to blur, a combined calendar and priority list helps the naturals reestablish solid boundaries around what they need and want to get done. It also forces them to prioritize and to think about the best way to accomplish the activity or task entered.

For example, when a natural receives a request from a colleague to start a meeting at 1 p.m., but had planned to take a 30-minute lunch walk at the same time, the combined calendar forces a pause and a moment of conscious choice. The natural can either accept the meeting and walk earlier or choose not to walk at all. Or he or she can ask if the meeting could start 30 minutes later.

Setting up a combined calendar/priority list is simple. Platforms like Gmail, iCalendar, and Outlook allow you to view your work and personal calendars together, and adjust privacy settings to limit which entries can be seen by whom.

Some naturals note entries as specific as “call mother to check in,” “order groceries,” or “review 401K,” while others simply block out periods of time knowing clearly what they want to accomplish without writing it down. The point is the boundary has been established with deliberate intention, which increases the likelihood that what matters will actually happen.

When it comes to calendars and priority lists, and finally breaking the cycle of “balance” resolution failure, apply that old saying “less is more.” Just one calendar may be the key to increased professional success and personal well-being in 2015.  How many calendars do you keep?

I invite you to connect with me on Twitter @caliyost and on Facebook.  

 

Work-life does not imply age, gender, or parenthood

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I was honored when the The Boston Globe asked me to contribute to “The Work Issue” they published this past weekend in honor of Labor Day.

The article, “Work-life does not imply age, gender, or parenthood,” included graphic highlights (above) of results from the recent national study we conducted in partnership with ORC International.

Key points I make in the OpEd:

Recent news events — reported abuses by employees at the US Patent and Trademark Office, Yahoo’s high-profile pullback in 2013 — may suggest otherwise, but research shows that remote work has become a fundamental way that a surprisingly large percentage of the American workforce gets their jobs done. Now organizations, managers, and individuals must catch up.

We need to de-parent, de-gender, and de-age the perception of the flexible worker. Among the respondents who said they did most of their work from a remote location, nearly three out of four were men. Further, there was no significant difference between remote workers with or without kids, and no significant difference in the age groups of remote workers.

If we can no longer isolate telework neatly into demographic boxes, that means we all need to acquire a new skill set to use telework to get our jobs done — and manage the rest of our lives. Unfortunately, in that same study, a majority of workers — nearly 60 percent — received no training on how to manage their work-life flexibility, and this lack of guidance made them feel like their boss had all the control.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

What do you think?  Have we reached the tipping point where telework has become a fundamental way we get our jobs done, regardless of gender, parenting status and age?

I invite you to connect with me on Twitter @caliyost and Facebook.

“But, Mom, What About the Dog?”: A Personal Tale of Work+Life Fit Imperfection

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For those of you who follow the weekly Tweak It Practice, you know that step #1 every seven days is to sit down and celebrate what you DID get done the previous week.

That means if you scheduled 10 “tweaks” or small, meaningful actions into your work+life fit and only accomplished 5, give yourself credit for the 50% you did do.  Celebrate success!

Perfection isn’t the goal; however, in the moment, that can be hard to remember…even for me.

For the past few years, we’ve been very lucky.  My husband’s job didn’t require a great deal of travel.  When I was out of town, I could rely on him to be with the kids in the evening.

But he recently changed jobs and for the first time I was scheduled to speak at a conference when he wasn’t going to be home.

My babysitter offered to stay overnight; however, because it’s the summer, both of my kids were invited to sleep over at a friend’s house.

The week before the speech, I meticulously scheduled all of the logistical planning “tweaks” into my work+life fit so that everything would be set while I was out of town.  Or so I thought.

A couple of hours after my speech, as I sat in my hotel room feeling pretty good about how I’d coordinated all of the pieces of our new work and life puzzle, my daughter calls to ask, “Mom, I’m getting ready to go over to Kate’s house, but what about the dog?”

The dog. Oh goodness, I’d forgotten to figure out who would feed and walk the dog if no one was going to be home overnight! Ugh!

Expected at a cocktail reception and dinner hosted by my client in 30 minutes, I now had to find a dog sitter!

Over the next 20 minutes, I frantically texted and called neighbors to see who had a key and who would be available to take care of Honey (pictured above in all her glory!).

Finally, I found someone and made it to the client event, but I had to laugh.  At the exact moment I’d started to give myself credit for 100% work+life fit perfection, the universe quickly reminded me, “perfection is not the goal.”

Something always comes up, but instead of beating myself up for forgetting about the dog and thinking, “Ah, I can’t do this,” I sat back and took a moment to celebrate success.  I gave myself credit for everything else that did go well.

Can you relate?  When have you forgotten to plan a key logistical “tweak” into your work+life fit and dropped a ball?  How did you respond?  Did you focus on what you did or did not accomplish?

I’d love to hear.  Share your story in the comments section below, on Twitter cc. @caliyost, or on our Facebook page.

 

“Want to Work Less?” All Hands Go Up. “But, You’ll Make Less Money” Most Hands Go Down

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Suddenly, it seems everywhere you look another billionaire is promoting a reduced workweek.  I recently appeared on WSJ Live to share my thoughts on the trend (scroll down to view the clip–I make my main points at 3:35).

While I believe their motivations are valid, these moguls need to understand that it will not be easy to make their vision a reality.  Some major hurdles stand in their way.

First, who is saying what?

Latin American telecom tycoon, Carlos Slim, is extolling the virtues of the three-day workweek, while the founders of Google are discussing the benefits of splitting one full-time job into many part-time jobs.

Why?  They have identified real challenges that could, in theory, be addressed through the collective reduction in the amount of time we work each week.

For Slim, the challenge is how to help people stay healthy so they can extend the number of years they are able to remain in the paid workforce.

For the founders of Google, the challenge is how to address the potential mass-displacement of workers by technology (e.g driverless cars, etc.), a not-so-distant reality recently described in an oped by respected Silicon Valley insider, Vivek Wadhwa.

Sounds good…but not that simple

Translating what may sound good on paper into action is not going to be easy for the following reasons:

People can’t afford to make less money.  If you ask a room full of people if they’d like to work fewer hours a week, almost every hand will go up.  However, if you add, “…but you will make less money” most hands will go down.

Bottom line: most people can’t afford to work less.  Therefore, any discussion of a reduced workweek must address financial reality, especially since individuals are being asked to shoulder more of the expense and risk of retirement and health care.

Workplace legislation and management infrastructure are based on a 35-to-40 hour workweek.  Any change in the standard workweek would require major legislative, HR policy and accounting regulation updates and overhauls.

For example, today overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act is calculated based on a 40 hour workweek. Would that change or stay the same?

In most organizations, compensation and benefits, such as health care, retirement contributions, and vacation are calculated based on a 35 or 40-hour full-time workweek.

In terms of accounting, internal head count cost allocations in most organizations are also based upon a full-time, 40-hour workweek.  That means if an employee works part-time the system still charges the business unit overhead for a full-time worker. It’s not prorated. If you hire another part-time worker, that’s another full head count.

How do you deploy more people working fewer days/hours and remain responsive and competitive in a global economy?  This won’t be as big an issue for less human capital intensive, or highly localized industries, but for service industries with customers in many time zones, a reduced workweek will require more complex coordination and communication across people, teams and shifts.  Managers will have to break their addiction to management by face-time.

Carlos Slim and the founders of Google have identified very real challenges.  They should be applauded for starting an important conversation.  But any wholesale reduction or reconfiguration of the workweek will require new approaches to compensation, updated employment legislation, and revised team management processes, benefits calculations and internal cost accounting rules to succeed.  That will be a heavy lift.

What do you think about the growing interest in reducing the workweek on a broader scale?  Does it have merit?  Could it really work?

What Happened When Silicon Valley Tackled Family Caregiving

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“The vast majority of health care is actually provided by families, not by health care professionals.”Catalyzing Technology to Support Family Caregiving

Last year, I presented at a conference where the luncheon keynote speaker was the CEO of a non-profit hospital chain.

As we ate, the CEO excitedly shared how her organization was radically rethinking the delivery of medical care at all levels, including post-treatment convalescence.

She explained how more and more of their patients are convalescing at home, which means the patient is discharged as soon as possible after a surgical procedure. They recuperate at home under the care of family and friends with the support of periodic nursing visits, and remote monitoring.

She continued “we have found patients prefer this arrangement, and it has allowed us to dramatically reduce costs while continuing to provide high quality care. We, and other hospitals systems, see this as the model for the future.”

At that moment, all I could think was, “Hold the phone. Who exactly are these family members and friends who are now expected to oversee the recuperation and convalescence of their loved ones at home from often major surgical procedures? Does this CEO understand that most of these people work?”

So I raised my hand and asked the question.  Not surprisingly, the CEO didn’t have an answer because that’s not her primary concern. The challenge this CEO is solving for is how to deliver the highest quality care to the most people in the most efficient and cost-effective way. On that dimension, she and other healthcare leaders are succeeding.

How can technology help us to deliver care on top of everything else we have to do, on and off the job?

This means that more and more of the burden to deliver all but the most acute level of care will fall to loved ones–family members and friends, most of whom will have to provide that often medically complicated care while continuing to hold down and perform at their paid job (70% of caregivers to be exact–Pew).

How is that sustainable?

With this question in mind, I jumped at an invitation from the National Alliance for Caregiving to participate in a unique day-long roundtable with twenty-two other experts from government, Silicon Valley, caregiving advocacy organizations, and researcher institutions this past April.

This diverse, committed group spent hours at the Institute for the Future offices in Palo Alto tackling these questions:

“Until now, technology has made only modest contributions to supporting caregivers.  Can technology play a more meaningful role in helping caregivers? And how can we accelerate innovation in developing new applications to support caregivers?”

The thought-provoking result of our collective effort can be found in the just-released report,  ”Catalyzing Technology to Support Family Caregiving“ (and press release) and is synopsized in this model:

Specific recommendations include:

  • Create better “concept maps” and find more appropriate language to describe the varied and complex caregiving landscape. The way we currently talk about and think about caregiving is too simplistic. For innovation to occur, we need more accurate, complex models and maps of what caregiving actually entails.
  • Continue to collect extensive data about the prevalence, burden and impact of caregiving. Again, for technology to support the caregiver, we need more and better data showing the diversity of caregivers and growing complexity of caregiving responsibilities.
  • Spur a broad national conversation on caregiving.  Quite simply–we need to talk about the growing challenge of the working family caregiver much more than we do. As we learned from our Silicon Valley colleagues, entrepreneurs won’t invest if there isn’t widespread attention on the topic because they don’t see the market, even though the market is huge.
  • Develop a compelling business case for employers and healthcare providers to support caregiving.  In other words, help the leaders like the hospital CEO, and those that employ the increasingly overburdened family caregiver to understand the business case for offering smarter and better supports.
  • Inspire social conversations about caregiving to encourage more learning and support within families and communities. Basically, we aren’t talking to and supporting each other when we find ourselves knee deep in family caregiving responsibilities. How can we leverage and scale existing in person and virtual caregiver support models like CareGiving.com?

And last, but not least, the recommendation I am particularly passionate about because of the work I do with employees and employers…

  • Provide caregiving coaching as an integral component of all solutions. My main contribution to the dialogue was to point out that any technology solution developed to help the family caregiver has to be simple and usable. Also working caregivers need help learning how to fit that technology into all of the other, often chaotic, responsibilities they are frantically trying to manage, on and off the job.

How to make an “Intelligent Family Care Assistant” part of your work+life fit?

For example, one of the technology solutions the group proposed was called an “Intelligent Family Care Assistant,” a system to keep track of and coordinate the family’s care tasks.

The challenge, of course, remains what type of coaching does a family caregiver need to learn how to integrate that technology into their already busy work+life fit? And who would provide that coaching (e.g. hospitals, employers, doctors), and how (e.g. live, in-person, virtually)?

An exercise that the roundtable group completed gave me hope that we are close to knowing what that coaching model looks like and how to deliver it.

In this joint exercise, the group spent about 20 minutes identifying all of the activities and priorities a family caregiver has to deal with only once, then yearly, monthly, weekly, daily, nightly, etc.  We wrote each priority and activity on a post-it note.

On pages 16-18 of the report, you will see pictures of post-it notes we then put into columns labeled labeled Medical, Wellness, Movement, Home, Social, Finance, Legal, Emotional and Personal Care, by level of frequency.

Essentially what the group did together in 20 minutes was complete a more complex version of the Tweak It Practice, with each post-it representing not only a “tweak” but also the inputs a caregiver would put into a care app like Unfrazzle. In other words, “contextualizing” coaching and support models like Tweak It and Unfrazzle exist, now it’s a matter of continuing to innovate and scale.

What do you think it will take encourage the innovation required to support the growing ranks of family caregivers (one of which will likely be us someday)?

Also, I invite you to connect with me and share your thoughts on Twitter @caliyost and Facebook.

FREE Webinar 5/21 at 2 pm EST–Intentional Flexibility: 5 Steps to Move Beyond Ambivalence

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“Ambivalence” is defined as the coexistence of positive and negative feelings toward the same object or action simultaneously drawing you in opposite directions.

According to our new research, full-time U.S. workers see ambivalence when asked about employer commitment to work life flexibility  – 46% say their employer’s commitment is strong, while the other 45% aren’t so sure the commitment is there.

On the surface, this uncertainty seems to contradict reality when you consider that 97% of full-time employees said they had some form of work life flexibility in 2013 (with 23% reporting an increase from the prior year), and almost one-third of respondents indicated they did most of their work from a remote location other than their employer’s site.

But the ambivalence is happening, and it keeps organizations and individuals from realizing the full benefit of a more strategic, intentional approach to flexibility in how, when and where work is done.

Join me LIVE on Wednesday, May 21st at 2:00 pm EST for a 45-minute webinar where I will discuss:

  • Highlights of our new research, “Employees Sense Weakened Commitment to Work Life Flexibility.
  • Why employers may be ambivalent toward work life flexibility, even though most of their employees report having at least some form of it, and
  • The five steps employers and individuals can take to move beyond unproductive ambivalence and confidently embrace the benefits of strategic, intentional flexibility.

Click HERE to register.  See you on the 21st and bring your questions!

Check out the infographic of research highlights we will discuss: